Registration of Investment Advisors

SEBI has uploaded a concept paper on regulation of investment advisors to its website on 26Sep’11 and has been inviting comments from the public till 5:30pm, 31Oct’11. The contents of SEBI’s discussion paper look so very similar to the provisions of the Regulation of Investment Advisors in the US. In the US, investment advisors are regulated by the Investment Advisors Act of 1940. At the state level (or depending on the net worth/size of operation of such advisors) they could alternatively be governed by the Series 66 regulation or the Uniform Securities Act (click to download).

The following caught my eye from SEBI’s discussion paper:

  • This thing has been going on since Mar 2007. A committee and a sub-committee
  • The regulation is proposed to be implemented through a Self Regulating Organisation (SRO). Hopefully that will be without sin.
  • Duality of market participants as sometimes they act as agents of the producers of the financial products they sell and sometimes they act as advisors to the end consumers.
  • The role of the SRO will be to cleave this duality and make advisors (somewhat) accountable
  • The paper trashes enhanced level of disclosures as an effective tool since it cites India’s lack of (financial) literacy and generally high levels of information asymmetry as being two facts that would blunt the effectiveness.
  • Any entity of individual providing investment advise – whether it be a bank, wealth manager, private banker etc will have to announce him/her/themself as an investment advisor. Period.
  • Advocates, chartered accountants, media publishers, etc will be exempt. I guess the exemption naturally extends to blog authors as well – if at all someone felt that the category was subject matter of the discussion paper.
  • Folks wishing to get registered under the aegis of the SRO need to be chartered accountants from ICAI, MBAs in Finance or have a relevant work experience of at least 10 years.  

Obviously, it’s a good practice to copy regulations from advanced markets but it’s also important to recognise that such regulation did not prevent the gross mis-selling of financial products in the US – the latest example being home mortgages. Investment advisors, whether registered or not – packaged homes as ATM machines and sold them to the American public.

I have two comments/suggestions to make:

1. With relation to advertising and general disclosure: It should be made mandatory for registered investment advisors in India (whenever such a breed be whelped) to declare their historical track record of investment advise rendered. Accepted that information flows may be asymmetric in India and that most of the consumers of financial products may be financially illiterate, but I don’t think they are so illiterate as to not appreciate quantitative measures of historical track record of the advisors they are dealing with.

2. Buying a house is definitely THE most important and largest financial transaction that Indian investors commit themselves to. Do the objects of this discussion paper touch the property buying process? Or are young property buyers always to depend on the mortgage provider (i.e. producer) to act as financial advisor? Maybe some scheme or arrangement that notifies some independent advisors as being registered property purchase investment advisors. Maybe property buyers get an incentive for buying property via such advisors….i dont know what may work, but i thought this is an important area that may need independent and unbiased investment advise. A natural extension of this point is the question that asks if “real estate brokers” be considered as investment advisors or not?

SEBI and other things

The Securities and Exchange Board of India has been in cracking form last week. Or so it seems. I like reading about C.B. Bhave and SEBI – the comment of one of my professors, “SEBI should be plucked and thrown into the Arabian Sea” notwithstanding. But that was in mid 1998 when D.R. Mehta was its Chairman. More on SEBI shenanigans later. Some of the things that caught my eye:

-          Increase of retail portion for application to IPOs to INR 2 lakh. Which is cool if we keep seeing more issues like Coal India Limited. I do not personally like to invest in IPOs but issues like CIL make one happy given the 5% discount to the retail rats. Moreover, in the case of CIL, the quality of paper was good as also the huge institutional interest. I have not done much snooping around on the internet to figure out what the allocation is likely to be but I am hoping for a 12% – 15% return in less than a month’s time! Let’s see. My means and expectations are modest.

 –          Crackdown on shady promoters who keeping issuing warrants to themselves at a steep discount during bull runs. Since most of the conversion money is to be paid during the warrant exercise date,  a sudden correction does not cut too deep for such warrant holding promoters. So this is a good proactive step in favour of minority shareholders. I was in the ‘minority’ report of Shakti Met Dor before I sold out on 07Oct’10 at a loss of 5%. The promoter credentials and their move to delist the company at what appears to be an artificially suppressed market value did not enthuse much confidence. FIIs have come in and done their bit in India but this stock has stuck to its price since the time I sold out. Good riddance.

-          IPOs for insurance companies. Nice! For once, the IRDA agreed! I am sure many more of those emotional HDFC Standard Life ads will start hitting the boob tube in a year or so. This is one good step towards the opening up of the insurance sector. Currently, there is a cap on how much Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) an Indian partner can bring in into its insurance venture. I do not know why Pranab Mukherjee cosies up so much with the IRDA but there was a recent soundbite where he observed that SEBI and IRDA were quarelling like petulant children. Was the ULIP bickering set up by New Delhi so that the Finance Ministry gets a firmer grip over SEBI?

- Options will now feature European exercises as well. As if they were not complicated enough! Europeans are cheaper than Americans so its good. The latter can be exercized at any time during the contract period while the former need to triggered only at the end. I don’t think I give a rats ass to European or American methods of exits. All I want is cheap long dated index options and I will be happy in my bermudas. I have such simple needs.

- The Mutual Fund industry squarely blames SEBI for rendering it comatose. There has been so much of bleeding with investors taking out money from fund houses’ coffers that the latter are now resembling leaky ketchup factories. Three blows fell really:

        Punch on the MF nose: Banning of the entry loads

        Ow! The stunner left hook: All strata of investors in MFs to have similar exit loads.

        Knock Out…the final uppercut: Mark your debt assets at the market.

These are good moves from the end (read small) investor point of view but if there is no sea then there’s no fish either, right?

-          And the clincher: SEBI will now be the sole regulator of all organized financial transactions. The IRDA, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the Forward Markets Commission (FMC) will all accede to it. RBI’s star seems to be in its descendent. You probably know that the Government of India is the bigger debtor of the nation and therefore the RBI. So what do you do if you cannot repay? If you a small, wretched villager in Andhra Pradesh distressed in some micro debt you’d commit suicide. But if you were the GoI you’d want to print more money and debase the value of your debt. Recalcitrant RBI guvs have always been a thorn in the flesh for the Finance Ministries at Delhi. Try noticing this – every time Pranab Mukherjee says something regarding exchange rates, inflation control, the FII ‘hot money’ pat comes the counter-view from the RBI guv. Also note that the FM’s view is part of a major front page story while the RBI piece typically appears one day later and its hidden somewhere in the inner pages. But that’s digressing.

To the more informed market participants, there appears to be a lot of dirty linen in SEBI closets and some of it has indeed been cut and pasted in the internet as banners of SEBI’s double standards and doule entendres: Current chairman being the common link between the securities scam at NSDL and the abrupt cessation of investigation from SEBI later on. SEBI’s spineless conduct during the Mehta and Parikh vaccum cleaning of the market. The super-fast-track exemption granted to Bharti desisting it from making an open offer during the MTN talks. etc.

C.B. Bhave may or may not have been guilty in the NSDL scam as alleged in some parts of the financial media. But it is a tough ask navigating the markets especially when his organisation has absolute powers and there is big money involved. I wonder if they teach Arthashashtra and Chess in the IAS.

The informed seem to detest this institution enjoying legislative, executive and judicial powers all together. In fact SEBI appears to have far more teeth that the US SEC. However, for the public at large, the instiution has earned a mix of a Robin Hood and Chulbul Pandey kind of reputation. While the capital markets’ cognoscenti will see more than what meets the common eye, the masses will always get a reassuring feel when blurbs like SEBIs ban on FIIs like Barclays’ & Societe Generale’s P-Notes,  individuals like Samir Arora, Shankar Sharma and various sundry brokers and promotor groups etc.

But does SEBI do things only when provoked and is it guilty of not touching the real issues? It is definitely newsworthy but is it worthy of news?

Are we done yet?

We are now at a 31 month high for the NIFTY (@ 5590 therabouts)!

And my mood is getting to be optimistically cautious. It surfaces immediately in my latest tweet which in turn was inspired by the recent tweet from Clifford Alvares, an Outlook Money correspondent.

Clifford Alvares Tell-tale signs of the next downturn: Slow-down in daily FII figures; market PE of 24+; unjustified run in small-caps — and free lunches. 5:50 PM Sep 6th via web Retweeted by you

Most of the people tracking and working the markets will be cautiously optimistic now, but I’m a worm. And worms have no spine. It’s getting to be a cacophony of dire predictions and upbeat prophecies. The more one reads and listens and watches, the more confusing it gets. But if you dont read or listen or watch, you might as well invest using your keen sense of smell or touch, maybe. Thats puts a weird thought in the wormy head. I am thinking of taking a leaf out of Curtis Faith‘s “Way of the Turtle“, where two stock market professionals recruited a couple of dozen bright men and women with no prior experience of trading and transformed them into star traders in two weeks flat (or maybe more). The basic premise being that trading is a skill that can be learnt just like any other academic/vocational course and that traders are made not born. So, what I’m going to do is recruit a dozen sharp blind men and women. Then as study material I’m going to give them thousands of historical stock charts converted into 3d, beveling up the stock price movement lines and make them trace their fingers on the line. The charts would run only upto certain arbitrarily chosen past points in time but I would urge my blind charges to carry on the “momentum” of their fingers….the future path which  the fingers take will be compared against actual historical movements and feedback will be provided….. if this experiment of mine ever gets done, then my hypothesis that blind people can make the best technical investors can be tested. Maybe this personal blind worm method of forecasting will work for me. I’ll write a book, become hugely famous and after a hundred years, people will falsely believe that the phrase “momentum investing” was coined off the tips of blind star traders.

The reason for this lunatic ambling within moving average envelopes is that expert opinions are certainly not helping:

The New York Times carries a story telling us all that the cloud of a double dip recession seems to have passed us by while Nouriel Roubini chastises the US economy planners that we are now defenceless against the looming threat of a double dip. A year or so back, if you’d have mentioned double dip to me, I’d have visions of Taj Mahal tea bags and “dip dip dip, and it’s ready to sip. Do you want it stronger, then dip a little longer. Dip, dip, dip..and it’s ready to sip”. But that’s a triple dip – maybe a new challenge worthy for Roubini. But for now, everyone and her pet poodle is talking of double dips:

Double Dip: the pet food of your pet bears. “Dip, dip and it’s ready to slip. For teddy to be stronger, dip a little longer. Dip, dip…and it’s ready to slip”.

I felt that this interview of the equity analyst, Sangeeta Purushottam dispensed some sane advice. It seems to say that there could be money waiting on the sidelines and it could come pouring in taking our local markets to euphoric heights. But the premise operating here is that there is indeed money waiting on the sidelines. Is there? A browse through global investing sites does not indicate a clamour to invest in the much discovered Asian bourses. Indeed, for all that noise about the NIFTY reaching it’s 31 month high, this country performance table by The Bespoke Investment Group is quite educative and humbling. But then the presses in the USA are printing and printing and printing. Strange things can happen.

So I crawled the SEBI website to ferret out FII net flows into Indian equity over time.  I left out derivative data and picked data representing the FIIs’ stock exchange investments and primary market data only. I think the chart speaks for itself. The main question however remains unanswered: is there is more cash coming India’s way via the FII route for the remainder of the year (net inflows)? Since Jan’10, c 60,000 crores of rupees have come into Indian markets via the FII direct participation in equity. Logic dictates that we should definitely get in more for the remainder of the 115 calendar days left in 2010. However, I noticed that typically there are 3 months (modal frequency) that see net FII withdrawals from the equity markets. We have seen two down months this year (January and May) – is a third one coming? So money will definitely be made, euphoria or not, but it calls for nimble trading and investing. That to me is a big problem since I am a worm after all. Any advise will be greatly appreciated.

Shakti Met Dor

Here is another dilemma that I face now. I had invested in Shakti Met-dor about a month back. The company looked undervalued, some people were beginning to notice and write about it but the charts were not indicating anything stellar to me – at least then. I was more happy to cream off 7 – 8% in about a month’s time and get out. I am sitting on an upside of 26% now. Of course, my digging around on the net had made me aware of a much larger upside that was possible on this stock. So I was waiting for the market to discover the hidden value in it – perhaps around the time of it’s quarterly results declaration? I also thought it a good omen to have dumped some money on the stock of a company which is domiciled in the same city where I am working currently.

The company fabricates doors and windows. That’s it. My money is hinging on these humble pieces of building fitout equipment. Doors and windows are not cool enough, I guess. Maybe that’s why the company has never really been able to command a good enough valuation despite doing pretty well for itself. Some time back it recently upped its manfucturing capacity and no one seemed to have noticed back then. The additional capacity seems to have come on board and the additional widgets are now contributing to the bottom line. The coffers seem to be filling up and now people are starting to see it on their screens due to the falling P/E ratio.

What’s my dillemma? When to sell. Again. The same problem.

And what’s the catch? The management – or so it seems. They must have realised that since the market cares two hoots about them, it was time they got out of the party where they were not invited. They now want to delist. The promoters own around 55% and it may seem that they have a long way to go (SEBI requires 90% ownership for promoters before they can slink away). But there’s more to it – we need to open our doors of perception wider. The problem is that, in true Pareto style, just about 100 shareholders seem to own around 90% of the stock under issue. I am afraid that if the management is able to corner these 100, then I’m done for. Who knows what relation exists between these 100 and the management? I hope they do not locate me – but that seems difficult as I work just 7 kms from their head office. The website of the company is nothing great. I am sure some creative webmaster can create quite a few interesting themes with doors and windows opening and closing on their website. They do not have an investor relations page or section but that’s all undestandable since the management has said that the reason for seeking an exit from the listed secondary market is the heavy burden of listing and exchange fees that the company has to bear. If that is such a heavy expense then why would they ever want to pay a few thousands to a web designer to spruce up their website? But despite the frugal website, they have managed to slip in an extract about their company culture (Career With Us >> Our Culture) which should help us investors:

“Openness: We like to be ethical, fair and forthright in all our endeavors; openness not just in the sharing of knowledge across the organization, but also in terms of respecting the feedback given by our people.”

I hope they feel the same about their investors? Or are some investors more investors per share of holding than others?

Despite such nobility, there is some speculation that the promoters have been quietly ferreting away bite sized chunks of shares away from the market ever since 1998 and do not appear to have been open and honest about it. That sounds like fraud to me. Stock analyst Mudar Pathreya said all this and also a bit more in his interview to CNBC-TV18 on 27Jul’10. He says that the company should be worth more than Rs. 500/share and advises shareholders to hold on.

Where is SEBI when it is needed the most? I need you, SEBI for I need to make money. I remember Prof. A, who during my first year of management studies had remonstrated very vigorously and animatedly:

“SEBI should be plucked out and thrown into the Arabian Sea”.

 Serious, risk averse dyed-in-the-wool kind of value investors will stay away and look the other way. But I am greedy. Greed is good. Greed is good.

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